APRIL 2 ― The Oscar season is finally over and as expected, a last-minute upset by CODA to snag the Best Picture award did happen.
It’s unfortunate that such a huge upset was overshadowed by that slapping incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock, which was what most people will remember from this year’s Oscars instead of the actual winners from the night, including what was a history making win for Ariana DeBose, playing the role of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, following in the footsteps of Rita Moreno who played Anita in the original West Side Story from 60 years ago, making them the first acting pair in history to win an Oscar for playing the same role in different movies.
DeBose was also only the second Latina ever to win an acting Oscar, the first one being Moreno.
Now that the Oscars are finally out of the way, let’s head back to one of my favourite ways of chilling out ― watching horror/genre movies.
One of the main beneficiaries of the rise of streaming and VOD during the pandemic are clearly horror flicks, especially those of the lower budget and indie persuasion, as the prevalence of movie viewing at home on streaming platforms has created an increased demand for horror films to fill up the slots.
Here are two very good ones for you to check out.
The most recent one of the bunch is Master, an Amazon Prime exclusive plucked from the Sundance 2022 line-up and released pretty quickly on March 18.
Another fine example of Black Horror, a sub-genre that’s been undergoing a pretty healthy renaissance in the last few years thanks to the breakout success of Get Out, Master is the writing and directing debut of Mariama Diallo, and it combines elements of Candyman, The Shining and Get Out to impressive effect, creating a psychological freak-out that interrogates issues like colorism and racial passing with consummate ease.
Set in a prestigious (but fictitious) Ivy League institution called Ancaster College, which even counts itself over Harvard, the movie follows two characters, new freshman Jasmine (Zoe Renee) and Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), the university’s first ever black “master” of one of the university’s constituent houses.
A local legend hangs over the college, that of a woman named Margaret Millett who was hanged there for witchcraft, and who is said to pick one freshman every year and, at the anniversary of her death at 3.33am, takes said freshman with her.
Like Nia DaCosta’s remake/re-quel of Candyman, Master is no mere horror movie.
It has a lot on its mind and Diallo balances the obvious and the implied masterfully, leaving the audience to piece things together in a very elegant way, especially during its startling final 20 minutes, a triumph of unpacking so many tricky things that’s made to look so easy, thanks to Diallo’s expert craftsmanship.
Released in US cinemas in February and then on VOD in March, The Cursed is the latest film from British director Sean Ellis (whose very interesting career has seen him make all sorts of films, my favourite being his humanist thriller Metro Manila, set in the Philippines and starring an all-local cast), and only his second in the horror genre.
Originally called Eight For Silver (a more apt and elegant name once you’ve seen the film) when it played festivals in 2021, The Cursed is a werewolf film set in 19th century Europe.
Gorgeously photographed by Ellis himself, the film has striking visuals and hypnotic atmosphere to spare, taking a gothic horror approach to tell its story of a curse on the land, which came as a result of the British landowners refusing to acknowledge a band of gypsies’ legit claim to a piece of land under their control.
In order to suppress that claim, some atrocities were committed, and ever since then everyone who lived on that land has had nightmares involving a scarecrow and a set of silver teeth buried beneath it.
While the film does use the classic werewolf mythology that we’re all familiar with, like anyone who gets bitten by a werewolf will become one and that silver bullets will kill them, the incorporation of the gypsy curse into the story has also cleverly brought in themes of colonialism and fear of the “other” into the usual mix of class conflict that usually permeate stories involving landowners and their servants/workers.
Ellis has also brought something totally new to the visual depiction of the werewolf ― once we finally see the creature in full, it really doesn’t look anything like a wolf, and that startling discovery will definitely stay in your mind for quite a bit.
An entertaining, thoughtful and surprisingly elegant take on the werewolf movie, The Cursed might just surprise you with how good it actually turned out to be.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.